A memo issued by Matthew Albence, director of ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations division, instructed 5,700 deportation officers that, "effective immediately, ERO officers will take enforcement action against all removable aliens encountered in the course of their duties”.
Although the new White House administration has ensured that detention and deportation measures for undocumented immigrants will be directed exclusively to those with a criminal history, evidence of such communications shows that the scope of ICE agents is now much broader.
According to ProPublica, National Security Secretary John Kelly - who Albence reports to - "had seemed to suggest a degree of discretion when he told the agencies under his command earlier this year that immigration officers ‘may’ initiate enforcement actions against any undocumented person they encountered. That guidance was issued just a day before Albence sent the memo to his staff”.
One way or another, the new ICE statutes appear to be a matter of semantic debate.
For example, Immigration Agency spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez stated that "ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of national security and public safety; however, no class or category of alien in the United States is exempt from arrest or removal."
For Sarah Saldaña, who was the director of ICE during the Obama administration, the variation of a word ("will" instead of "may") gives new force to the law.
This has become evident in the number of arrests made during the first months of this year, in which the criminal record was minimal or non-existent. This was reported by The Washington Post in an April 28 report, which stated that, "about half of the 675 immigrants picked up in roundups across the United States in the days after President Trump took office either had no criminal convictions or had committed traffic offenses, mostly drunken driving, as their most serious crimes.”
“Since 2008, Congress had traditionally used its annual spending bill to instruct the secretary of homeland security to prioritize the deportation of convicted immigrants based on the severity of their crimes, but that language was left out of this year’s bill, helping to pave the way for broader enforcement", says the ProPublica report.
According to data published by the ICE, between February and May this year, the new administration has detained 108 undocumented immigrants with no criminal record per day, representing a 150 percent increase over the same period in 2016.
ICE's current acting director, Thomas D. Homan, told the House Appropriations Committee that, "there has been a significant increase in non-criminal arrests because we weren’t allowed to arrest them in the past administration. You see more of an uptick in non-criminals because we’re going from zero to 100 under a new administration.”
Likewise, Homan made it clear at a White House press conference that, “there has been this notion that if you get by the Border Patrol, if you get in the United States, if you have a U.S. citizen kid, then no one is looking for you. But those days are over.”